She’s Having A Doris Day by Kirby
knife | fork | book — 2017 — $12
Review by Kim Fahner
You know, from the minute you see the cover, with its sharp, clever title and Drew Shannon’s colourful pink play on iconic Americana, that this will be a collection that has an obvious sense of humour. She’s Having A Doris Day is courtesy of Kirby, who runs Knife Fork Book, the Toronto poetry-only bookshop that has taken the country (especially poets) by storm (in large part by sheer, unmediated generosity). While Kirby is the person behind the brilliant little poetry bookshop, they are also a fine poet in their own right.
“White Sale” sets the tone for the eight poems that follow in how it recounts a person’s morning routines. Simple, yes? Elegant? Definitely this too. Even in the things that the speaker in the poem does every day, from assessing her physical body as she rolls over to get out of bed, to thinking about washing morning dishes left to soak overnight in the sink, to starting the coffee, to going to the bathroom, her mind drifts to the meaning behind each action that is taken. She wakes up, each day, “wonders what day this is,” and tries to remember what it is she’s meant to do. There’s the pressure of a ‘to do list’ that any reader can relate to, but there is also a sort of graceful and timeless, almost balletic, motion to the poem. The speaker “Kimonos back/through the living/room” and ponders the worth of a bedroom beyond the act of sleeping.
It’s a lovely meditative lyric poem that is quickly followed by the staccato sounds of “Pink Power,” with its chopped up lines and drum-like musicality: “not girlygirl pink princess pink pony pink/pink lavender that’s so gay I’ll fuck you up sissy boy pink/oh pink off/pink almighty/powderpuff pink/panther pink/Show me the pink.” The poem goes on, swirling out of itself in a rush of language at play with its own music, spinning around in a twisting playground swing, but also getting at—and subverting—the notion of gender stereotypes and oppressive social mores.
The theme of searching for one’s identity is in here, too. Put an American pop culture icon on the cover of your book, and play with the idea of what a “Doris Day” might be if it were actually a day of the week, and you’re bound to be a poet who tests and questions old, dusty, patriarchally enforced social mores. This isn’t about “que sera sera, whatever will be, will be,” but it’s more about questioning how things are the way things are at the centre of mainstream society. That’s where the power lies: in the questioning.
In “Freer,” for instance, the speaker questions what it means to finally be free within yourself. “Antony is now Anhoni.” This is the very strong first line. It is followed by “She no longer he/if he ever was her/voice resplendent/even more so.” When you step into yourself fully, the speaker says, you find yourself. From afar, the poem reflects on transformations of gender and identity. “I find him her them/beauteous.” Beyond that, the piece is about the cost of liberation, in how a person can consider what is lost to be just as important as what is gained. There is a fluidity here that is a constant current in Kirby’s poetics, something that makes you wish the chapbook itself were just a little bit longer.
The poem that sits at the heart of the book , and is perhaps the most poignant, is “Adam’s Feet.” Written to mark the horrific Orlando nightclub slaughter of 2016, this poem speaks to the gut-wrenching emptiness that comes after such a horror. The poet questions: “How can I write about anything?” The number ‘fifty’ echoes, like a heartbeat, throughout the piece. Fifty people killed because of hatred. Fifty states in the United States of America. Fifty “rounds a minute/cut down in as many seconds.” The speaker confesses “Like you/I have been a moving target my whole life.” Born in America, the poet left their home country and moved to Canada. This poem is one that is written from a distance, looking back at the past, removed, but is also about being in the present, knowing that the current political climate isn’t kind, or even open to accepting any sort of diversity in gender or culture.
What pulls She’s Having A Doris Day together is the sense of honesty about it all, the openness of voice and experience that weaves itself through the eight poems. What Kirby does with their work is important. The poems speak of how a search for personal identity is often fraught with challenges, but is just as often triumphant in the seemingly smallest of ways—from a morning routine, to a Sunday dinner, to the memory of a lover’s body that winds itself into the sensuality of language. This little collection is one that leads to Kirby’s first full length book, This is Where I Get Off, which will be published by Permanent Sleep Press, in Spring 2019. If what we read here is any indication, that book, too, will be of strong and certain voice.